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In a recent decision, the Washington Supreme Court held that a class action suit challenging the validity of traffic camera fines is not the appropriate vehicle for vindicating the plaintiffs’ rights. The court found that the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring a class action because they had not first exhausted their administrative remedies by seeking to vacate their convictions in municipal court.

The case, Williams v. City of Spokane, involved a group of motorists who were fined for speeding in a school zone after their vehicles were photographed by a traffic camera. The motorists challenged the validity of the fines, arguing that the cameras were improperly positioned and that the city had not properly notified motorists of the cameras’ presence.

The motorists filed a class action suit, seeking to have the fines declared void and to have the city refund the money that had been collected. The trial court dismissed the suit, finding that the motorists lacked standing because they had not first sought to vacate their convictions in municipal court.

The motorists appealed to the Washington Supreme Court, arguing that they had standing to bring a class action because they were asserting a common legal question that affected a large number of people. The court disagreed, holding that the motorists’ claims were not ripe for adjudication because they had not yet exhausted their administrative remedies.

The court reasoned that the motorists could have sought to vacate their convictions in municipal court, which would have provided them with an opportunity to present their evidence and arguments to a judge. If the motorists had been successful in vacating their convictions, they could then have brought a class action suit to challenge the validity of the fines.

The court’s decision in Williams is a setback for those who are challenging the validity of traffic camera fines. However, the decision does not mean that such challenges are impossible. Individuals who believe that they have been wrongfully fined by a traffic camera should still pursue their claims, but they should do so through the appropriate channels.

In addition to the procedural hurdles that the Williams decision creates, there are also substantive legal challenges to traffic camera fines. For example, some courts have held that traffic camera fines violate the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures. These challenges are still being litigated, and it is possible that the Supreme Court will eventually weigh in on the issue.

In the meantime, the Williams decision serves as a reminder that class action suits are not always the best way to vindicate individual rights. In some cases, it may be necessary to exhaust administrative remedies before bringing a lawsuit. This can be a time-consuming and frustrating process, but it is often necessary to ensure that a case is successful.

If you or someone you know needs help with a traffic infraction contact us at 253-720-9304, or

Williams v. City of Spokane, 199 Wn.2d 236 | 505 P.3d 91 | 2022 Wash. LEXIS 152